Fragile Empire How Russia Fell In and Out of Love with Vladimir Putin Ben Judah

Publication date:
15 Feb 2014
Yale University Press
400 pages: 229 x 146mm
20 b-w illus.
Sales territories:

A lively, inside account of Putin’s years of rule and the impending crisis that threatens his tsar-like regime

From Kaliningrad on the Baltic to the Russian Far East, journalist Ben Judah has travelled throughout Russia and the former Soviet republics, conducting extensive interviews with President Vladimir Putin’s friends, foes, and colleagues, government officials, business tycoons, mobsters, and ordinary Russian citizens. Fragile Empire is the fruit of Judah’s thorough research: a probing assessment of Putin’s rise to power and what it has meant for Russia and her people.
Despite a propaganda program intent on maintaining the cliché of stability, Putin’s regime was suddenly confronted in December 2011 by a highly public protest movement that told a different side of the story. Judah argues that Putinism has brought economic growth to Russia but also weaker institutions, and this contradiction leads to instability. The author explores both Putin’s successes and his failed promises, taking into account the impact of a new middle class and a new generation, the Internet, social activism, and globalization on the president’s impending leadership crisis. Can Russia avoid the crisis of Putinism? Judah offers original and up-to-the-minute answers.

Ben Judah is currently a visiting fellow at the European Stability Initiative. His work has been featured in the Financial Times, the Economist, Prospect, Standpoint, and Foreign Policy.

"This is a rich and powerful book" - Tony Brenton, Standpoint, 1st June 2013

"Having worked as a Reuters reporter, a think-tank analyst and a freelance journalist, Judah has the skills to prep the dirty ingredients of Russian politics and cook up a narrative feast." Oliver Bullough, Literary Review, 1st June 2013

"Judah’s portrait of Putin’s fragile empire is analytical, historically informed and wise. He shares his glancing impressions lavishly, and does not conceal his sadness and disgust." - Rachel Polonsky, Evening Standard, 30th May 2013

"Ben Judah, a young freelance writer, paints a more journalistic – and more passionate – picture in ‘Fragile Empire’. He shuttles to and fro across Russia’s vast terrain, finding criminals, liars, fascists and crooked politicians, as well as the occasional saintly figure." - The Economist,  9th May 2013

"Judah has travelled far and wide. He’s talked to men and women in all walks of life – and, what’s more, he’s listened. There’s a real freshness and vividness to his reportage, a real conviction in his analysis of a society in which daily life is an endless round of disappointment and frustration." - Michael Kerrigan, The Scotsman, 18th May 2013

"A beautifully written and very lively study of Russia that argues that the political order created by Vladimir Putin is stagnating – undermined by corruption and a failure to modernise economically. Judah’s reporting stretches from the Kremlin to Siberia and has a clear moral sense, without being preachy." - Gideon Rachman, Financial Times, 29th June 2013

"Judah is an intrepid reporter and classy political scientist [...] His lively account of his remote adventures forms the most enjoyable part of Fragile Empire, and puts me in mind of Chekhov's famous 1890 journey to Sakhalin Island [...] In Birobidzhan, close to the Chinese border, Judah finds the Chinese are already farming Russian land. The Slavic locals live in squalor. He meets two women selling mushrooms by the side of the road, one with a face "so riven by wrinkles it looks like cracked mud on the bottom of a dry lake". A local teenage girl tells him: "Who gives a fuck about the motherland. There is no fucking motherland." Luke Harding, The Guardian, 27th June 2013

"The best of a recent crop of books on the Russian president, it describes the essential corruption of the system Putin created (supposedly) to clean up the country. It spans the extent of this huge country as well as the decade and a half that Putin has been in power."—Oliver Bullough, The Telegraph

“Nothing in Vladimir Putin’s early life marked him out as a future president. A rough childhood in postwar Leningrad led to an undistinguished career as a KGB agent. Yet as journalist Ben Judah shows in this detailed and impressive account of Putin’s years in office, it was his very ‘greyness’ that enabled him to succeed in the chaos following the collapse of the Soviet Union.”—Ian Critchley, The Sunday Times

“Reading Ben Judah’s ‘Fragile Empire’, How Russia Fell in and out of Love with Vladimir Putin’, the best one-stop account of the Putin era, you can trace the journey of Russia’s relationships with Putin from love-icon to, for an increasing number, object of derision.”— Peter Pomeranzev,  Open Democracy

"[A] fantastically engaging book, with many enlightening and provocative tales of a Russia we may not recognise."—Joel Krupa, LSE Blog

“Judah’s outstanding Fragile Empire travels up and down the curve of Putin’s popularity. . .This is a familiar narrative but Judah, only in his mid-twenties, explains it all with economy and panache. . .What makes Fragile Empire important, however, is its dissection of Putin’s decline in popularity in 2008. It is the first to tell the story not just of the Moscow protest movement but of the less visible, but no less real, dissatisfaction beyond the capital.”—Neil Buckley, Financial Times

"Fragile Empire [is] a fluent and plausible account of Russian politics and society in the wake of the recent protests."—Andrew Monaghan, TLS

'This book is an impressive achievement. . . one that Western politicians, diplomats and anyone seeking to engage with Russia should read, even if it gives you nightmares.’—The Chartist

‘Part travelogue, part political analysis, Ben Judah’s Fragile Empires is one of the most thought-provoking general accounts written about contemporary Russia for some time. In order to write the book, Judah has done an impressive amount of travelling over five years, speaking to almost everyone one has to speak to in Russia and getting eyewitness accounts from a large number of different regions.' —Michael Rochlitz, Political Studies Review.

“[Judah’s] excellent book provides a wide-ranging and highly critical account of the current state of Russia. . . He also gives an insightful historical perspective on the rise of Putin.”—Amy Knight, New York Review of Books

“[An] astute new book on Russia.”—David Frum, The Atlantic

“A powerful critique of Russia under Vladimir Putin. . . . This is a stimulating and fascinating read that clearly captures one aspect of contemporary Russian life.”—Graeme Gill, The Historian